One Woman’s Experience With Early Onset Alzheimer’s


Lisa Carbo was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 53, after memory loss and difficulty multitasking resulted in a poor performance report at her job as a nurse. The diagnosis quickly altered Carbo’s life and plans. Not only did she lose her job and her boyfriend, but her plans for retirement drastically changed as well. She had expected to retire, working part time, volunteer, travel and spend her life with another person.

Diagnosing an early onset of Alzheimer’s can be a lengthy process. Since the condition is somewhat rare, affecting an estimate of one in 10 adults, a large number of tests are usually conducted to rule out other conditions. This usually includes blood testing, spinal taps, MRI scans and neuropsychological testing. Typically those with symptoms prior to age 65 would have a greater number of tests that are more expensive and elaborate than those in the typical Alzheimer’s onset age bracket.

The diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s typically comes when people are still in their prime, working and making future plans for their career paths and eventual retirement. The diagnosis can be devastating, since these plans must be drastically changed to involve planning for terminal illness and deterioration of mental and physical capacities. As a caretaker for her mother, she watches her mother decline on a daily basis, and reports feeling terrified as though she’s looking into a mirror and seeing her future. Anxiety and depression are common conditions among those with early onset Alzheimer’s, especially soon after the diagnosis is made. Carbo quickly found help to deal with this by seeing a therapist and taking antidepressant medication.

In addition to talk therapy and medication, many resources exists to help Alzheimer’s patients and their loved ones deal with the condition, including local branches of the national Alzheimer’s Association, support groups, and informational Web sites. Carbo no longer sees a therapist, and part of her success in coping with her diagnosis and depression comes from her proactive approach. She is an early stage advisor with the Alzheimer’s Association, which means she is one of 12 people who provide input and advice to the association based on their own experiences. She founded a local support group, and she helped put together an informational pamphlet. She is participating in a trial drug study, and a study assessing a GPS device to help loved ones monitor those with Alzheimer’s who are likely to wander and become confused. Carbo says these activities help her maintain her identity and participate in society.

To learn more about early onset Alzheimer’s disease, contact the Alzheimer’s Association online at